Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 September 2008
Issue No. 913
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Dig Days:

Zahi Hawass

Egyptian archaeologists

By Zahi Hawass

While the SCA secretary-general was being interviewed for "Guardian's Spotlight" in July 2008, pigeons were seen pecking away at the eyes and ear cavities of the Sphinx and their droppings were splattered on the stone. Jill Kamil discusses this new danger

When I became secretary- general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), I stated that we must restore Egyptian archaeologists before we can restore the monuments. Actually, at that time, it was clear that our archaeologists could not compete with our foreign colleagues. Therefore, we started training programmes that were taught by foreign specialists in the best excavation and museological techniques. We sent some of our bright young archaeologists abroad to learn the latest scientific methods, and when they returned not only did they implement what they had learnt but also they taught others. Now, a few years after we began this project, I am happy to report that we have many Egyptian archaeologists who are carrying out the best scientific excavations and salvage archaeology in the field.

At the same time that we started to expand on our archaeologists' skills and make sure that they were up-to-date in all the newest and best scientific methods we also raised their salaries and gave additional permanent pay for dangerous work. We have improved the healthcare for all our employees, and we are currently building an SCA sporting and social club. The SCA has dedicated one day a year, 14 January, as the Ahmed Pasha Kamal Day, named after the first Egyptian archaeologist to celebrate the accomplishments in archaeology and honour all the archaeologists who have dedicated their lives to the conservation and restoration of Egyptian monuments. Many archaeologists spent their lives on their work and never received the recognition they deserved. Some previous heads of the antiquities department did not value the dedication and hard work of these individuals. I always say that professors at the university cannot understand the work of the SCA. Therefore, it is important always to have the head of antiquities coming from the SCA and not from a university or another organisation.

Many archaeologists suffer from health problems caused by the hazards and dangers of their work. They enter tombs, dark shafts and pyramids, and constantly put their lives at risk in order to do their best work. Unfortunately many of these courageous and dedicated archaeologists have died young; they never received the healthcare they needed and they never felt valued or cared about by their employer. Now with the new programmes the SCA has established, things are getting better and better all the time. Alas, even with these improvements some still die much too young, but, they know in their hearts that we did our best to care about them.

Recently a colleague of mine, Samir Anis, an Egyptian Coptic archaeologist and director- general of antiquities in Middle Egypt, passed away. Anis grew up in Minya and worked for his entire career at the Minya monuments. I never worked with him, but everyone always said good things about him. This is why when I became in charge of Egyptian monuments I appointed him to the position of director- general of antiquities of the monuments of Minya, including the oasis at Mallawi, Amarna and other sites in the area. There was a lot of competition for this post, but I chose him.

When we announced the position of undersecretary of state, we interviewed several archaeologists for the job. When Anis came for his interview I learnt from his file that he would be retiring soon (in about six months), and it normally would take a year just to finish all the necessary arrangements for the position. However, I promised to give him this position so he could retire with the title. He was extremely happy and he used to tell everyone this story. He told me that he needed to make some money before he retired; and therefore he asked if he could accompany an exhibition that was being sent abroad. I promised him that I would arrange for him to travel with an exhibition so he could make some extra money.

When I was in Luxor recently, Mustafa Wazir, who is in charge of the Valley of the Kings, told me: "I have some bad news!" He then went on to tell me that Anis had died. I was stunned and just stood silently. I was very upset, but I was reassured that he died knowing that he was valued and was given the rights he earned through his hard work.

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